18 July 2009

"Allied Atrocities"

Geoff's Take:

In an earlier post, I spoke of the bombing of Dresden, and how it's been referred to as an "Allied Atrocity". I have come to the conclusion that "Allied Atrocity" has a civilian counterpart, and it's called "Police Brutality".

One of my favorite retro-shows is the police drama Dragnet. One episode in particular comes to mind. Sergeant Friday is called in because one of his uniformed officers (a black man, by the way) has been shot by a pair of gunmen, who were white.

The officer survives, but he has no memory of the event. During the investigation, a civilian remarks to Sergeant Friday that when one of their own is shot, the police go all-out to find the bad guys.

Friday quickly admonishes, "Let me ask you something. These men shot down an armed police officer. Do you think they'd hesitate to shoot down an unarmed citizen?"

In today's world, where tv police are portrayed by the likes of Stabler and Benson, Dragnet is largely forgotten, and characters like Friday and Gannon are generally viewed as caricatures.

But the simplicity of Dragnet enabled its characters to make a point. In this case, Friday was pointing out to a private citizen that police work was best left to those who know it, and should not be randomly judged by people who aren't policemen and don't think like them.

Likewise, when people who aren't military strategists and don't think like soldiers critique military operations, it's almost like a person with no formal training in oral surgery critiquing the way a dentist performs a root canal.

Granted, if that same dentist extracts healthy teeth, or drills a tooth with no cavity, then he is committing an atrocity. But these atrocities are obvious, as atrocities normally are.

Likewise, it's not usually difficult to detect real brutality in law enforcement, if you see the whole picture. Beating someone for jaywalking is obviously brutality, but if that jaywalker is under the influence and behaving in a violent, threatening manner, then it doesn't seem as brutal, does it?

Healthy examination of one's self is required to live a moral life, but if we become too critical, we risk losing our sense of right and wrong.

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